Oregon Or the Grave! (And Other Lessons from the Oregon Trail)


If you read my posts even occasionally, you know that I am a genealogy nerd. So it should be no surprise to anyone that I am a fan of the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC. It’s one of three shows I am willing to pay for when I can’t get it online for free.

A recent episode featured Kelsey Grammer. At some point he follows his family line from California back to Illinois, and is surprised to learn that his ancestors traveled west along the Oregon Trail. I’m just going to go out on a limb and assume you all know about the Oregon Trail- and if you don’t, you should at least have a vague concept about this bit of history from the computer game. Kelsey’s family lost a son to Cholera along the way. (You probably could have guessed that.)

I have been thinking about the Oregon Trail ever since. Mostly I have been comparing my own world to the world of those early trail blazers. One of the first Oregon pioneers was a group of sixteen men from right here in Peoria, IL who called themselves the Oregon Dragoons. Their intention was to colonize Oregon on behalf of the United States; and in the spring of 1839 they set off to claim Oregon Country from the English fur traders.

I imagine Oregon seemed at least as exciting as anything happening in Peoria in 1839. Or even in 2014. The Dragoons carried a flag that said, “Oregon or the Grave!” because that’s the kind of slogans our ancestors liked. And because one of the wives sewed it for them. It may have been a bit dramatic, considering several of the group’s members only made it to Missouri before heading back to Peoria unharmed. Continue reading

In the Beginning….We Had Everything

....and my parents paid the photographer.

….and my parents paid the photographer.

I don’t remember being all that worried when my car broke down for good along I-94 in the spring of 1996. We were coming back from our appointment with the wedding photographer. A nice couple had picked us up and took us to the Helmer Road exit in Battle Creek, where I called my dad for a ride.

It was a 1979 Plymouth Horizon, previously owned by my Great-Grandma Hill. From the time I was born I had gone to her house every Sunday, and sometime around the age of sixteen I had stayed with her while she recovered from surgery. During this week she must have decided I needed a vehicle, and so it was that the little red hatchback came into my possession.

We had our battles. That car taught me early on how to be nervous at every little engine sound, and how to stop at lights and stop signs without completely stopping (if I ever wanted her to go again); but that final year she gave me a lot of miles. I think it was the wedding we attended in Kansas the previous month that finally took her life.

One last road trip.

It was a half hour drive to my job as a Meijer’s shoe clerk, so the loss of my vehicle meant I would have to quit. I was a month away from my 20th birthday, and two months away from my own wedding day. I should have been panicked, but my young mind thought the time off would be convenient. Who needs money? Obviously we had no money for a car. I was engaged to a man with epilepsy who didn’t even know how to drive. This, combined with the fact that my car had broken down so much I was used to being without a vehicle made us believe we didn’t need to have transportation, either. Continue reading